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  • Tara Albright DPT

National Diabetes Awareness Month! - Surviving the holidays and Making healthy choices

November is most often known as the gateway to the holiday season. However, many people do not know that it is also National Diabetes Awareness Month. Diabetes affects millions of Americans, with an estimated 30.3 million being classified as diabetic and another 84.1 million being classified as having prediabetes (meaning you have impaired glucose tolerance, generally a precursor to diabetes). During the holiday season we often have goals of watching our sugar intake and remaining active, however in people with prediabetes and diabetes these goals are actually a way of life, which is added stress during the sugar rush holiday season. Holidays are often associated with a few (if not more) days of sweet indulgence and weight gain of a couple pounds (or more). These things are problematic for anyone, but for those individuals with diabetes, it can be dangerous.

To understand how to help people manage their diabetes during the holiday season, we first have to understand why elevated blood sugar (glucose) can be problematic for anyone, but particularly those who are prediabetic or diabetic. In a normal, healthy adult a couple days of elevated blood sugar during the holidays can be manageable. However, elevated glucose in the blood stream for an extended amount of time can cause damage to the vessels that supply blood to tissue and vital organs, therefore putting people more at risk for stroke, heart disease, kidney disease, and can lead to vision problems or even nerve damage. This is true for anyone who has elevated blood glucose, but is a particular problem in people with diabetes, due to their glucose intolerance and damage to the pancreatic cells used to metabolize glucose. Another issue is that the holiday season often brings weight gain. Excessive weight on our joints and tissues can lead to tissue breakdown and injury. Likewise, excessive weight can actually lead to insulin resistance in your cells, which is very dangerous for those folks considered pre-diabetic. Similarly, in the folks that already have developed diabetes those extra pounds are more difficult to shed, due to some of the medications used to help treat diabetes. These are the obstacles facing individuals living with diabetes, and thus is the reason it is helpful to provide information on ways to stay active and make healthy choices during the holidays.

Now that we understand the importance of promoting good and healthy decision making during the holidays, let’s talk about simple ways to incorporate these changes into our daily lives.

Healthy food choices: These can sometimes be few and far between during the holidays. It is first important to know how your body handles carbohydrates. If you are not sure a good goal to have is 45-60 grams of carbohydrates per meal and 15-30 grams of carbohydrates for snacks.

Good snack ideas

  • An apple and peanut butter – the apple is full of fiber and the peanut butter will keep you satisfied for longer, due to the protein

  • High fiber fruits like berries and pears – these tend to be lower on the carb scale and pack a lot of fiber punch to satisfy and steady your blood sugar. 1 Cup of whole strawberries only counts for 11 g of carbs and helps satisfy a sweet tooth.

  • Almonds – the protein provided by a handful of almonds will keep you satisfied for hours and only pack about 6-10 g of carbs for approximately 23 almonds.

Good side-dish ideas for meals

  • Broccoli – this is very fibrous and a ½ cup only contains about 5g of carbs

  • Quinoa – although this is a grain, it is a healthy whole grain, which contains fiber. ½ cup counts for about 17g of carbs.

  • Sweet Potatoes – Although sweet potatoes are known as a starchy food, research has shown that sweet potatoes are a good source of adiponectin, which helps improve metabolism and insulin regulation.

Good side-dishes for Thanksgiving (enjoy a few links to some really yummy looking side-dishes that are diabetic approved and sure to be crowd pleasers)

Continue to exercise and stay active

The holiday season also seems to bring along some cold weather, but do not let that hinder your physical activity goals. Research has shown that exercise makes the cells more sensitive to insulin, therefore making them more efficient. Likewise, exercise makes your cells utilize glucose for energy, therefore lowering your blood glucose and A1C levels. These are the two reasons that make exercise and staying active a number 1 priority, or at least puts it pretty high in the list.

Here are several ways to stay active even when the cold weather, ice, and snow moves in

  • Mall walking – Malls are often open early even before the stores are open, therefore providing a safe and warm place to walk before the holiday shopping crowds move in

  • Sign up for a gym membership - there are often discounts and specials running during the holiday season

  • Enjoy outdoor activities – our great grand valley location offers so many fun outdoor activities even in the snow, so bundle up and get out for some snow shoeing, downhill skiing, cross-country skiing, or even build a good old fashion snow man

  • Take a walk – particularly after the BIG holiday meal to help stabilize your blood glucose and burn a few calories. Walking is an easy exercise that requires no equipment and is a healthy choice for any day.

If you are having difficulty starting an exercise program or staying active during the winter months give us a call. We can help get you started on a safe home exercise program personalized to your needs.

Other important tips and tricks

  • Eat a balanced breakfast - it is important to eat a good balance breakfast on the day of a big afternoon feast or holiday party. This will help prevent overeating due to being overly hungry and will give you a healthy start to the day.

  • Monitor blood sugar frequently – if you are taking medications or insulin to lower your blood glucose it is important to check your blood sugar often to allow for the variances in your eating habits and schedule changes with your daily activities

  • Budget your sweets intake – be sure to calculate these into your daily intake of carbs, not in addition to your daily intake carbs. This will keep your blood sugar more stable, while allowing you to enjoy a little treat every now and then

  • Monitor alcohol consumption – alcohol can have a blood sugar lowering affect in moderation, so just be aware of this affect and avoid alcohol on an empty stomach. Also, alcoholic beverages vary widely on calories and sugar amounts, so be aware of what you are drinking. It is recommended that people with diabetes do not consume more than 1 drink a day for women and 2 drinks per day for men

  • Use your smart phone to help make smart choices – there are many apps that you can download to your phone to count carbs and help you calculate insulin dose. Many are free to download and very easy to use.

  • Bring a side dish that works for you – If you are asked to bring a side-dish or dessert be sure to cook something that you know your body does well with. I am sure that you could even bring 2 or 3 things, this will provide you with at least a few things that you can eat and feel good about, and no one ever turns down more food.

All of these tips and tricks were specifically written to be tailored to individuals with diabetes, however all of them are really good ideas for all individuals to pay attention to. The main idea behind all of these tips on surviving the holidays with stable blood sugar is to enjoy yourself and understand your body. If you go in with a good mindset and idea of how your individual body does with certain foods and activities, you will be able to enjoy yourself and also understand your limitations.

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